The premise of Friday Morning Tho(ugh)ts is simple: a space for queers to think critically about our identities, sexualities, and sexual experiences together as a community. Every Friday I will leave a post that ends with an open ended question. Throughout the week you should feel comfortable emailing your thoughts on the question I pose. Throughout the week send me your questions you may have, as well. This question will be the basis for next week's Tho(ugh)t. It’s kind of like if Dear Abby meets Dr. Ruth meets your mom’s knitting Midwestern knitting circle. And at base, the hope is this: the creation of a space where we can engage with each other about aspects of our experience that demand critical thought. I don’t have the answers, but writing together, perhaps we can try out some answers until we find the ones that fit.
As we head into the summer months and come out of our hibernations into longer days filled with parties and social events, the question of who we prioritize in our lives and who we spend our time with becomes a little bit more relevant. But, at the same time, the question of queer friendship, and, more broadly, queer community seems to be a methodologically fluid one. This is why the question I received this week about the comforts and discomforts that come with building community as a queer person seemed especially apropos. This reader wrote:
“I want gay friends, but I have never been very good at making them. I feel uncomfortable going to gay bars alone, and I am not sure I have a lot in common with the gay people I work with. I constantly see gay men on social media with huge friends groups of other gay people, and I get jealous because I would love to have that but I have no idea how to get it. How do I make gay friends?”
I don’t believe that this reader is alone: I think making friends and building community of any type can be difficult for queer individuals. When you are brought up in a world in which you must be constantly be on guard against potential forms of rejection from just about everyone because of who you are, this can make friendship and community-building – acts that require vulnerability – an exceptional challenge. But this challenge doesn’t mean that queer people ought to embrace a lonely life of solitude; in fact queer community can be incredibly rewarding and allow you a safe space to finally be vulnerable.
Admittedly, though, the challenge is real, and I understand the thought that gay bars seem to be the primary and only space in which you can potentially meet friends. And, I will be the first to admit that I have made essential and irreplaceable connections in gay bars that have led to treasured friendships with people whom I truly value. But the fact is that gay bars are not the only place you can go to find friends and community, and for some people gay bars aren’t comfortable places to go to have community – something especially important to keep in mind.
I want to avoid being trite here: of course there are obvious other ways to find gay community (e.g. join a gay volleyball league, do some queer activism, etc.) but my guess is that if you find going to a gay bar alone uncomfortable then most likely doing these other activities alone will be intimidating for you, too. I think at base there are a lot of people who feel intimidated by large group social gatherings, and so I want to think about ways you can build community outside of that.
And so I think first and foremost, much in the same way you have to be open to finding romantic connections, you have to be open to connecting with people in terms of friendship. This reader mentioned that they didn’t think they had anything in common with their coworkers – and this may be true – but I also want to challenge this a bit. To what extent is an underlying fear or nervousness about queer friendship preventing you from finding potential, shared connections with these coworkers? How would being open to friendship with these people – and exploring potential connections with these coworkers – surprise you into realizing that you do have shared interests with them?
You don’t need to throw yourself into a massive gay feeding frenzy at a party to find community, you just need to be open to the possibility that you could meet people with whom you share some sort of social connection. Perhaps this means DMing someone you talk with a lot on Instagram to get coffee and to make your digital friendship material. Maybe it means getting happy hour with your gay coworkers and finding out, once you are removed from the dryness and professionalism of a hetero- work environment, that they share a lot more in common with you than you perceived. Or maybe it does mean challenging yourself to seek out activist opportunities, queer sports leagues, or other queer-based shared-interest groups. At the end of the day, building community starts when you take a tiny risk and open yourself up to finding new connection. And I want to assure you that the payoff of finding queer friendship is invaluable in a real way.
And in the end the important thing to remember about community – queer or not – is that community isn’t about fitting in with the cool kids (or looking like all those “cool” people you see on Instagram [are the pictures we post on Instagram really reality anyway?]) Community is about finding people who edify our souls, who help us grow, who challenge us to be better. Community isn’t about fitting in or trying “be cool.” And when you start to see community as being about soulful edification, community as a form of taking care of yourself, you will be able to open yourself to the possibility of finding people with whom you can have these communal connections. Queer community is nutritious food we need for our queer souls.
But community building is no easy task, as I said. So how do you build community? And what does queer community look like to you? Do you have tips for how people can overcome their fears and begin to find a source for queer friendship? I guess the question this week is deceptively complex: how do we build queer community?